Negotiation and Collective Bargaining
Collective bargaining is specifically an industrial relations mechanism or tool, and is an aspect of negotiation, applicapble to the employment relationship. As a process, the two are in essence the same, and the principles applicable to negotiations are relevant to collective bargaining as well. However, some differences need to be noted.
In collective bargaining the union always has a collective interest since the negotiations are for the benefit of several employees. Where collective bargaining is not for one employer but for several, collective interests become a feature for both parties to the bargaining process. In negotiations in non-employment situations, collective interests are less, or non-existent, except when states negotiate with each other. Further, in labour relations, negotiations involve the public interest such as where where negotiations are on wages which can impact on prices. This is implicitly recognized when a party or the parties seek the support of the public, especially where negotiations have failed and work disruptions follow. Governments intervene when necessary in collective bargaining because the negotiations are of interest to those beyond the parties themselves.
In collective bargaining certain essential conditions need to be satisfied, such as the existence of the freedom of association and a labour law system. Further, since the beneficiaries of collective bargaining are in daily contact with each other, negotiations take place in the background of a continuing relationship which ultimately motivates the parties to resolve the specific issues.
The nature of the relationship between the parties in collective bargaining distinguishes the negotiations from normal commercial negotiations in which the buyer may be in a stronger position as he could take his business elsewhere. In the employment relationship the employer is, in a sense, a buyer of services and the employee the seller, and the latter may have the more potent sanction in the form of trade union action.
Unfortunately the term "bargaining" implies that the process is one of haggling, which is more appropriate to one-time relationships such as a one-time purchaser or a claimant to damages. While collective bargaining may take the form of haggling, ideally it should involve adjusting the respective positions of the parties in a way that is satisfactory to all, for reasons explained in the Paper entitled "Principles of Negotiation".